Leaning forward the doctor moves the stethoscope gently across her wrinkled and thin back until he stops ‘ “Breathe in’¦There are the crackles, quite clear”.
Patting Magalane Moela (72) gently on her shoulder, Professor Tony Davies leaves her to get dressed and scribbles some notes on a form before ending off in capital letters – ASBESTOSIS.
Placing the thick, round spectacles back on her face, Moela’s daughter Melita helps her frail mother to put on one sweater after another.
Sadly, for this 72-year-old widow, the crackling heard through Davies’ stethoscope may just be her passport to compensation, but the likelihood is great that she may not live to receive it.
As the lung disease progresses, Moela will become more breathless, first on exertion and later at rest. At the same time her heart will have to work harder to pump blood through the damaged lungs and eventually it will fail, causing more severe breathlessness.
Chances are that she will die of a community-acquired infection such as bronchitis or pneumonia, on an already weak chest.
Born in the south-eastern side of the Northern Province, in the village of Sehlaku, Moela started working on an asbestos mine when she was in her early twenties, much older than many of the other widows in the area, who also worked the mines from as young as six.
Moela was known as a “cobber” on the mine, which meant she worked on the surface, crushing the asbestos ore to remove unwanted rock before crushing it.
Moela has been a widow for 20 years, losing her husband to what is verbally diagnosed by Davies as an asbestos-related disease. Belfast Moela worked his entire life as an asbestos miner on the now defunct Tapoleng mine, the same mine Magalane worked on.
She answers affirmatively to all questions when Davies asks her whether she coughs, is breathless when she walks uphill or whether she has chest pain.
Moela is applying for compensation for the first time, her daughter Melita, in her early forties, confirms that she also worked on the mine as a sweeper.
“Now I sell tomatoes door-to-door as my mother’s pension does not go very far in supporting the 14 children and grandchildren at home.”
After adding her thumbprint to the application, Moela and her daughter leave the HC Boshoff Hospital, about 11km off the Lydenburg-Pietersburg road, to visit her husband Belfast’s graveside where they ask the ancestors for their guidance.
“Please can you make sure that this application is successful,” Moela asks, kneeling next to the grave, set in the spectacular hillside.
So, what will Moela do if she receives compensation (usually in the region of R14 000)? “I don’t know how much I will get as I don’t know anyone who got money, but I want to make our house a bit bigger as it is very cramped.”
Will Moela’s application be successful? Only time will tell, but the odds are definitely stacked against her and many of the other widows, exploited for decades by the mines.
“The odds are stacked against her because she has no record of service. She has no record because she was never given one,” Davies said.